Napoleon many faces ensure memory
The story of Napoleon's death-mask attributed to Dr. Archibald Arnott told from caricatures based on the portrait by Dahling (1806).
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Napoleon many faces ensure memory
Napoleon many faces ensure memory:
reconstruction of a death mask.
In 2015, the Hermitage Amsterdam Exhibition Centre is presenting, from 28 March to 8 November,
Napoleon’s death mask from the collection of the Hermitage in St Petersburg. This intriguing relic is
supposed to have been taken, shortly after the death of Napoleon on 5 May 1821, by Archibald Arnott who
performed the autopsy and was charged by Hudson Lowe not to leave the Emperor before he be laid in a
coffin. The mask came from the estate of Maximilian de Beauharnais who probably received the mask from
his father Eugene de Beauharnais, Napoleon’s stepson (Hermitage Amsterdam, 2015). The mask, 45 x 35 x
20 cm, is make up of wax and paper.
Napoleon's death mask presented at the Hermitage Amsterdam © Moniek Bloks at
The original or so-called “parent mold” of Napoleon’s face was made by the surgeon Francis Burton and
masks, or positive casts, have only been known to the public after his death that occurred in 1828. Human
model faces significantly change after death, for that reason the resulting facial cast is often reshaped to be
considered as worth portrait. This operation generates much controversy since the “positive mold” may be
quite different from the mother mold. We have analyzed the wax mask modeled by Dr. Arnott present in the
Musée Massena (Nice, France) which is very similar to the Hermitage version. This death mask is known
since the publication by The Illustrated London News journal, on 14 April 1855, of an illustration of a
previously unknown mask of Napoleon. According to this article the wax mask shown in London was made
by Dr. Arnott who had soothed the last moments of Napoleon (Wilson, 1975). It is in the Pardee Collection
since 1932 and on long-term loan to the Musée Masséna. The determined chin position may have been
exaggerated by the fact that the jaw falls open as muscles relax after death and thus must be manually
repositioned. But the determined chin may also result from a caricature whose readability was based on the
perspective of a well-known portrait by Heinrich Anton Dähling from 1806. The painter drew Napoleon in
uniform “des Chasseurs de la Garde” and his drawing was then etched to infinity.
Wax cast of the face of Napoleon attributed to Dr. Archibald Arnott, in the Pardee Collection since 1932, on
long-term loan to the Musée Masséna, Nice (France) © Pierre-François Puech.
Heinrich Anton Dähling drew Napoleon in uniform “des Chasseurs de la Garde” in Berlin between October
27 and 24November 1806, and his drawing was then etched to infinity.
Arnold Johann-Friedrich: Napoléon Empereur des Français, Roi d’Italie ; print from the drawing of
Heinrich Anton Dähling 1806 © Bibliothèque Nationale http://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b6940802j
The caricature below is the portrait Napoleon on September 1, 1815 (Broadley, 1911). Named ironically
“General Sans Pareil” (or “Peerless General”) architect of the victory; he was on his way to St. Helena. The
Design is based on the whole length profile portrait by Dähling that may be considered as emblematical.
Profile view - considered as the most distinctive
angle for representing an individual-
Napoleon death mask by Archibald Arnott
© Pierre-François Puech
The analysis of the profile plaster reproduction
of the death mask Arnott facilitates comparison
with caricature and probably identified the
model used in shaping the mask presented in
1855 to the public.
-Broadley A. M. 1911 Napoleon in caricature, 1795-1821. London: J. Lane, vol. 1, pp. 389-391.
-Hermitage Amsterdam, 2015. Napoleon’s death mask arrives at Hermitage Amsterdam,
-Wilson J.B. 1975 Dr. Archibald Arnott: surgeon to the 20th Foot and physician to Napoleon. British
Medical Journal; 3(5978): 293–295.
http://empereurperdu.com/amasque.html Final release of may 18, 2015 Professor Gérard Lucotte was able to
lead a comprehensive survey on the" death mask of Napoleon " still baptized Mask Rusi (Royal United Service
Institute Museum*), after the owner entrusted him the relic for expertise. He found in particular the presence of
5 hairs (among which 2 were covered with plaster). Among these hairs, two had kept a bulb in good condition,
which allowed him to bring to a successful conclusion an analysis DNA complete from these 2 bulbs. It appears
that the hairs in question reveal NAPOLEON'S BONAPARTE ADNMT, beforehand determined by the previous
works of Pr Lucotte. The authenticity of this mask, recognized by journalist Georges Rétif, then by historian
Bruno Roy-Henry, could be assessed by anthropometric comparisons between the mask in question and the
pictures of the natural descendants of Napoleon or members of his family. It was however not recognized by the
specialists of the question who still preferred - by conformity- the official death mask, said " the mask of
Antommarchi ", in the name of the last doctor of Napoleon in Sainte Hélène(Saint Helena), supposed to have
made it with Dr Burton. Rusi mask indeed suffered from a bad traceability. Bought from an English antique
dealer (William Reeves) by Charles Alder in the 1930s, this mask had then been given up on August 5th, 1939 to
Royal United service Museum, museum which depended on Royal United service Institute. This sale having
ended on the eve of the Second World War, it had been little commented and had gone unnoticed in France.
Post-war years, it is the baron Eugène de Veauce who had rediscovered and made it known in France. The writer
had concluded that the mask, although being of an impeccable execution, was not the one of Napoleon. Since
then, the napoleonic circles agreed to deny any authenticity to the mask Rusi. The analysis DNA from hairs
found on the mask Rusi, further to the expertise realized by Professor Lucotte, definitively makes a decision on
the matter. The mask reflects well and truly the authentic facial features of Emperor Napoleon on his deathbed.
Mortuary practices with face modeling was a widespread practice since the early Holocene. The origins of the
tradition can be traced to the 12–11th millennia “Such treatment has commonly been interpreted as representing
rituals connected with veneration of the dead” [The Technology of Skull Modelling in the Pre-Pottery Neolithic B
Do you think Dr Arnott did not make a real death-mask, and that Dr Burton reshaped the mask? A lot has been
written on Napoleon's death. Could the cause have been alcoholism & liver cirrhosis IYO?
Napoleon's death-mask attributed to Dr. Archibald Arnott may have been molded from caricatures appearence
based on the portrait by Dahling (1806)?
It is possible that castings made by Dr. Antomarchi and Dr. Arnott, assemblies of prints, exhibit no ressemblence
due to alterations to the finish. These alterations made outside of the model have distorted the truth. The
profound similarity of the Arnott death mask with a caricature portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte provided new
evidence on file. Certainly the bloated face presented by the Arnott mask evokes the clinical signs of chronic
alcoholic impregnation. Marc, thank you for bringing these useful clarifications.
* Later known as the Corso mask (now in an American private collection)